Monday, April 27, 2020

Review: Gulliver's Wife

Title: Gulliver's Wife
Author: Lauren Chater
Publisher: 1st April 2020 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups


Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver
London, 1702. When her husband is lost at sea, Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, is forced to rebuild her life without him. But three years later when Lemuel Gulliver is brought home, fevered and communicating only in riddles, her ordered world is turned upside down.
In a climate of desperate poverty and violence, Mary is caught in a crossfire of suspicion and fear driven by her husband’s outlandish claims, and it is up to her to navigate a passage to safety for herself and her daughter, and the vulnerable women in her care.
When a fellow sailor, a dangerous man with nothing to lose, appears to hold sway over her husband, Mary’s world descends deeper into chaos, and she must set out on her own journey to discover the truth of Gulliver’s travels . . . and the landscape of her own heart.
My Thoughts

‘Why did he return? Where has he been? Nobody seems able to say for certain and his presence in the tavern would suggest he is not as ill as you suggest. It wouldn’t be the first time a man’s gone native and come back, would it, Missus Gulliver? Nor will it be the last.’

Gulliver’s Wife is Lauren Chater’s second novel. Her first, The Lace Weaver (review HERE) was wonderful. This is a much different story. Here Lauren has creatively imagined the tale of Mary Gulliver, the wife of the famous Lemuel Gulliver whose fictional adventures were written by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.

In this tale Lauren has presented an engaging fictional recount not only into the imagined fallout from her husband's infamous voyage, but and perhaps to a definite higher regard, the life and times for women in early 1700 London. Lauren brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of London through rich and detailed prose. Research is clearly evident as you trail along with Mary and her daughter Bess to the many locations and situations they find themselves in. Add to this a convincing reimagined plot to this famous tale of the Gulliver’s seafaring adventures and there is much to entertain here. Lauren does not hold back as themes of domestic violence, drug use and childbirth are forefront. 

During this period in history, life was extremely difficult for women to say the least. Women were the property of the men they were married to and abusive relationships were most common. Mary was granted a little more freedom as Lauren placed her in the role of a midwife which granted her a more independence and enabled the reader to venture forth with her to a myriad of cases. Even still, Mary still finds herself often powerless to the demands of her returned husband and she has to work hard to protect those she loves, namely her son and daughter. 

‘Because what if she fails? What are the consequences? They are worse for women than for men. Any small error in judgement, any scandal . . . She has spent the better part of her life avoiding drama, but now drama has found her.'

Bess is Mary’s daughter and it was a clever move to include her as another viewpoint into the hardships women had to endure. Lauren I feel, authentically captures not only the day to day living but also the midwifery practices of the time and the challenges they faced as male doctors sought to take control. The relationship between Mary and her daughter is well represented and realistically portrayed with the challenge to assume more control of their lives with strength and resilience. 

‘How she wishes she could go back and unsay the things she said and say others in their place. She would peel back the hurt like rotting floorboards and lay bare all the things she should have told Bess years ago. Now, time is against them. The breach is so impossibly wide neither can hope to mend it.’

Gulliver's Wife is a tale that will not only transport you back to 1700 London in exquisite detail but will also educate you on the struggle for  women and all of this tied together with a fascinating reimagining of the return of the infamous Lemuel Gulliver.

‘How many of these sailors have never returned home? How many cannot face their families after what they have done and seen? Is it possible Lem never went to Sumatra at all, but holed up in a place like this with a pipe for comfort? Did the years slip by in a whisper? Did they pass in a fever dream, while somebody–a woman, perhaps–milked the last of his coins from his purse, transmuting gold into smoke rings?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Review: Where the Lost Wander

Title: Where the Lost Wander
Author: Amy Harmon
Publisher: 28th April  2020 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 328 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups


In this epic and haunting love story set on the Oregon Trail, a family and their unlikely protector find their way through peril, uncertainty, and loss.
The Overland Trail, 1853: Naomi May never expected to be widowed at twenty. Eager to leave her grief behind, she sets off with her family for a life out West. On the trail, she forms an instant connection with John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man straddling two worlds and a stranger in both.
But life in a wagon train is fraught with hardship, fear, and death. Even as John and Naomi are drawn to each other, the trials of the journey and their disparate pasts work to keep them apart. John’s heritage gains them safe passage through hostile territory only to come between them as they seek to build a life together.
When a horrific tragedy strikes, decimating Naomi’s family and separating her from John, the promises they made are all they have left. Ripped apart, they can’t turn back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go. Both will have to make terrible sacrifices to find each other, save each other, and eventually…make peace with who they are.
My Thoughts

Amy Harmon has a new book out! Sign me up! Amy is one of those buy without knowing authors, as her writing is so lyrical and you are always guaranteed to be swept away. Where the Lost Wanderis a wonderful tale set in 1853 on the Oregon Trail, a moving story of hardship and love.

‘Feeling . . . not so much. Feeling is instant. It’s reaction. But thinking? Thinking is hard work. Feeling doesn’t take any work at all. I’m not saying it’s wrong. Not saying it’s right either. It just is.’

Amy is an incredible author - she can literally turn her hand to any genre. She could write something on a napkin and I would sign up to read it. I have read her fantasy, contemporary, historical - and each time she nails it. Her storytelling in any field, the characters she produces and research undertaken is always impressive. 

Now, the prologue!  WOW! Do you remember all those Westerns you would watch as kids, cowboys, Indians, settlers in wagons? Made me think of all that. She hits you with it in the beginning and then you wait the whole story to see when and where it will come to pass. This is not an easy read for anyone squeamish. It is brutal and confronting at times. Yet that was the reality for both pioneering families and Native Americans alike. 

“I know my own mind, Mr. Lowry. I always have. My own heart too.” “But you don’t know the terrain.” “I’m counting on you to guide me through it, John, all the way to California.” “I’ve never been,” he murmurs. “I don’t know how to do this . . . any of it.” “So we go steady and slow,” I say.

Then there are the characters. The story is then told in dual viewpoints by both Naomi May and John Lowry. This is a love story but counterbalanced against this is the suffering, hardships and incredible loss experiences by many. There are such interesting secondary characters also - Naomi’s mother and Jack’s father for starters - and the story behind Chief Washakie is worth reading for its own sake. The authors note at the end helped provide perspective to real events and characters. 

If you have never read an Amy Harmon book, I suggest you do (HERE) ... and soon. She has an incredible way with words and I will gladly read anything and everything she writes. This book is not one of my more favoured ones of hers, however that being said, I still loved it and would recommend it to those who have a particular interest in American pioneering history. 

“The hardest thing about life is knowing what matters and what doesn’t,” Winifred muses. “If nothing matters, then there’s no point. If everything matters, there’s no purpose. The trick is to find firm ground between the two ways of being.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Review: Just an Ordinary Family

Title: Just an Ordinary Family
Author: Fiona Lowe
Publisher: 24th February 2020 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 507 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups

Every family has its secrets...
Alice Hunter is smarting from the raw deal life has thrown her way: suddenly single, jobless and forced to move home to her parents' tiny seaside town. And now she faces an uncomfortable truth. She wants her twin sister Libby's enviable life.
Libby's closest friend Jess Dekic has been around the Hunter family for so long she might as well be blood. She's always considered herself a sister closer to Libby than Alice ever could be...
Libby Hunter has all of life's boxes ticked: prominent small-town doctor, gorgeous husband and two young daughters. But when she is betrayed by those she loves most, it reveals how tenuous her world is...
For Karen Hunter, her children are a double-edged sword of pain and pride. She's always tried to guide her girls through life's pitfalls, but how do you protect your children when they're adults?
As the family implodes, the fallout for these four women will be inescapable...
My Thoughts

I have read a few Fiona Lowe books, Home Fires, from last year totally flawed me (review HERE). This book, whilst similarly dealing with small town life, is a different story but still one of great character analysis. Just An Ordinary Family investigates themes such as love, trust, betrayal and regret. Fiona herself stated that she wished to highlight ..”how often we delude ourselves that our actions will only result in one specific outcome and that when we explain ourselves, others will understand and forgive.” But do they?

The characters here are both real and relatable, they make mistakes as we all often do and this tale investigates the regrets that often come from not facing those errors. Relationships that go to the brink because of misunderstandings and words expressed in anger. The question is, can these issues be overcome? Will secrets, once revealed, leave wounds that cannot heal? Fiona will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions with each of her  main characters as they face the consequences of their actions. They are flawed and thus don’t make the best decisions but they are human, that being, their intentions are often pure or well meant. Readers will have to decide for themselves who they support and why, with opinions more than likely to differ - but isn’t that true to life? 

The only drawback is the length of this book - it is a long one. At times the dialogue goes round and round in circles and could in some parts have been condensed. There are multiple storylines with a lot going on. Yet once I passed halfway I became fully engaged in each of the women's quests. 

Overall this is an epic family saga focusing on love and forgiveness. It’s intense and real with a walkaway message to treasure each and every day. 

‘We owe it to the children to honour our mistakes, learn from them and live the best version of ourselves.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Review: Truths I Never Told You

Title: Truths I Never Told You
Author: Kelly Rimmer
Publisher: 25th February 2020 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups


It begins with the discovery of a tattered letter in the attic ... A heart-tugging story of family secrets by the Top 10 bestselling Australian author
1959: Grace is a young mother with four children under four. All she ever wanted was to have a family of her own, but there are thoughts Grace cannot share with anyone in the months after childbirth. Instead she pours her deepest fears into the pages of a notebook, hiding them where she knows husband Patrick will never look. When Grace falls pregnant again, she turns to her sister Maryanne for help.
1996: When Beth's father Patrick is diagnosed with dementia, she and her siblings make the heart-wrenching decision to put him into care. As Beth is clearing the family home, she discovers a series of notes. Patrick's children grew up believing their mother died in a car accident, but these notes suggest something much darker may be true.
Truths I Never Told You is the unputdownable, unforgettable story of motherhood and marriage by Kelly Rimmer, author of Before I Let You Go and The Things We Cannot Say.
My Thoughts

"Sometimes moments of change happen during quiet conversations like this, when a simple shift in perspective empowers you to make a choice you just haven’t been able to make before.” 

Truths I Never Told You is yet another winning tale by Kelly Rimmer - she never fails to deliver on the emotional stakes. Not only is she a great storyteller, but she stands up ready to tackle issues that many an author may shy away from and she does so with such sensitivity and compassion. This book left me fairly speechless as it is just so emotional and really pulls at one's heartstrings. 

I am a fan of dual time narratives especially when done well and this is one such example. Told by main characters past and present, provides real depth to the tale from differing viewpoints. You cannot help but empathise given the circumstances and combined with the quality of writing that elicits such responses from a diverse array of characters. Kelly’s writing is completely addictive as she compels you to keep turning those pages to reach a conclusion. She Is an author you must try if you have not already done so. 

"I feel his absence. The room smells like Dad - his aftershave and deodorant linger in the air. This scent is warm hugs on sad days .... Dad, how am I ever going to survive without you?" 

Detailing life in the 1950s and present day, the focus mainly surrounds that of postnatal depression - how the two eras tackle it is rather striking. There are other issues covered as well in the book such as dementia  and family dynamics - all equally compelling in my opinion. There are many secrets that are slowly revealed over the course of reading, demonstrating Kelly’s writing is not only one of compassion but also intrigue, yet another highlight. 

This is a book I highly recommend as the depth and breadth is really quite remarkable. The comparisons between the generations is a revelation. An incredibly moving story that will surely break your heart in places. Kelly’s research on the social topics, the way she captures and engages through quality characters and cleverly tying the narrative all together so well at the end is a recommendation in itself to read this book. Keep tackling the big stories Kelly, you do it with such aplomb, it is a credit to you and keeps your readers coming back for more. 

"This was what I failed to understand about love before I experienced it myself. Love doesn’t just need compromise to survive - love, to its very essence, is compromise. It’s genuinely wanting what’s best for the other person, even when it trumps your own preferences." 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Review: The Caretakers

Title: The Caretakers
Author: Eliza Maxwell
Publisher: 14th April 2020 by Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 318 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
My Rating: 3.5 cups

In the isolated estate she’s found the perfect getaway. But there’s no escaping the past in this chilling novel from the bestselling author of The Unremembered Girl.
Filmmaker Tessa Shepherd helped free a man she believed was wrongly imprisoned for murder. When he kills again, Tessa’s life is upended.
She’s reeling with guilt, her reputation destroyed. Worse, Tessa’s mother has unexpectedly passed away, and her sister, Margot, turns on her after tensions from their past escalate. Hounded by a bullying press, Tessa needs an escape. That’s when she learns of a strange inheritance bequeathed by her mother: a derelict and isolated estate known as Fallbrook. It seems like the perfect refuge.
A crumbling monument to a gruesome history, the mansion has been abandoned by all but two elderly sisters retained as caretakers. They are also guardians of all its mysteries. As the house starts revealing its dark secrets, Tessa must face her fears and right the wrongs of her past to save herself and her relationship with Margot. But nothing and no one at Fallbrook are what they seem.
My Thoughts

The Caretakers is a dual time narrative moving back and forth from present day to the early 1900s, centreing around a mansion named, ‘Fallbrook’. There is much to appreciate here ... an old run down house surrounded by mystery and intrigue with a startlingly history. Add into that mix sisters and forgiveness, secrets and revenge with an inheritance and this novel has much going for it. 

‘Fallbrook. Whatever name it goes by, the house, what’s left of it, and its elderly caretakers, have made an impression on Tessa. She drives back to the bed-and-breakfast on autopilot, replaying the sights and sounds, the feel of the place, in her mind.’

At first the two timelines do not appear connected - Tessa in the present and her self doubt over a false imprisonment story, to that of two sisters, the ‘caretakers’ of Fallbrook - now in a much dilapidated state. How the two timelines (reflective flashbacks to when the two sisters were young) come together is quite clever and definitely dramatic. It takes a little while to get there, but when the two stories begin to make sense, it is engaging reading. It becomes suspenseful writing with a gripping story that has a few unexpected plot twists. 

‘She can’t accept a world where right and wrong don’t matter. A good person wouldn’t have taken out his rage on an innocent woman, no matter how much injustice the world served up.’

The issue I had with the story is that there were a few too many characters and subplots that took away from the overall essence of the tale. Fewer elements, described in greater detail may have been beneficial.  The writing was good with twists and turns and a somewhat dramatic climax - maybe a little overdone in places with lucky coincidences; and major characters well executed - excepting a few stereotypical additions.

Overall, despite there being a lot going on that can get a little bogged down and confusing at times, this is a suspenseful read that kept me going to the very end. 

‘... somewhere along the way, amid the injustice and the broken promises and the devastating losses, a good man had turned bad. If that was true, then good and bad—right and wrong—they lost all meaning.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Review: The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart

Title: The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart
Author: Margarita Montimore
Publisher: 25th February 2020 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, time travel
My Rating: 4.5 cups


Brooklyn, 1982. Oona Lockhart is about to celebrate her 19th birthday and ring in the New Year. But at the stroke of midnight, she is torn from her friends and boyfriend, finding herself in her fifty-one-year-old body, thirty-two years into the future.
Greeted by a friendly stranger, Oona learns that on every birthday she will enter a different year of her adult life at random. Still a young woman on the inside, but ever changing on the outside, who will she be next year? Wealthy philanthropist? Nineties Club Kid? World traveller? Wife to a man she's never met?
While Oona gets glimpses of the future and thinks she knows what's to come, living a normal life is challenging. As she struggles between fighting her fate and accepting it, Oona must learn to navigate a life that's out of order - but is it broken?
My Thoughts

I was fully onboard with the premise of this read. I mean think about it - we are most likely guilty of looking forward or looking to the past, imagining how things could or should have been. This alone makes for a very compelling story, especially when observing the main character, Oona, and witnessing how she does/not handle each new year she finds herself in - somewhere along her timeline. As the jumps are not sequential you really do find yourself wondering and eager to read what she will be facing for her new year. 

"I don't know, when you're experiencing time in order, there's probably so much you take for granted. But when you go from year to year randomly, I bet you see things differently. Notice more. Appreciate more."  
"Yeah, you'd think so, but sometimes you're too busy dealing with what a pain in the ass it is."

This is a really readable tale that easily lends itself to encouraging/forcing the reader to contemplate their own stance were such a situation to arise. Would you have led your life any differently if given the chance?  And, knowing your future, would you try to initiate preceding changes? Tie into this the tumultuous array of emotions and questions about fate and inevitability and there is much to consider. Ultimately the question remains, just exactly how much control does one have over their life? Love it!

"Stop micromanaging your life and just live it; joy and meaning will follow. Find the happy medium between being daring and responsible. Cultivate that balance. Do your best. Be good to yourself, even when - especially when - life isn't’ being good to you.”

To fully appreciate Oona and her life, you have to let go of questioning the logistics of how this all came about. Let it go! Who cares! Allow yourself to be transported to a range of time and places throughout Oona's life (all things well appreciated in retrospect) enjoying the armchair trip of ‘what would I have done?’ This illogical occurence is all about character development and story arc - the why, not the how. Even the events chosen by the author are interesting selections to think about. It might in fact leave you wanting more. 

"Another thing to consider - even if you could prevent it and ended up changing your         future, you wouldn't know how because you already lived through that year. And if you start going on about alternate timelines again, it'll give me a headache, so please let's not go down that road. Make your life more about letting in the good things than preventing the bad things.       
You're not going to stop any wars or stave off any big tragedies. You're not Sarah Connor, and the Terminator is now governor of California.You ... you do good by being a good person, making others happy. Embrace that."

I feel confident that this book will be sure to capture your heart on some level and most certainly your imagination for its uniqueness. It’s a different type of book that is frustratingly fun with a fitting closure. It will also make you reflect upon your own life’s journey: the things we do, the things we let go of, the times we treasure, the times we squander. Are there lessons that have to be learnt and one can never really outrun fate?

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Review: Three Hours in Paris

Title: Three Hours in Paris
Author: Cara Black
Publisher: 7th April 2020 by Soho Press
Pages: 360 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, World War II
My Rating: 4.5 cups

In June of 1940, when Paris fell to the Nazis, Hitler spent a total of three hours in the City of Light—abruptly leaving, never to return. To this day, no one knows why.
The New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc investigations reimagines history in her masterful, pulse-pounding spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris.
Kate Rees, a young American markswoman, has been recruited by British intelligence to drop into Paris with a dangerous assignment: assassinate the Führer. Wrecked by grief after a Luftwaffe bombing killed her husband and infant daughter, she is armed with a rifle, a vendetta, and a fierce resolve. But other than rushed and rudimentary instruction, she has no formal spy training. Thrust into the red-hot center of the war, a country girl from rural Oregon finds herself holding the fate of the world in her hands. When Kate misses her mark and the plan unravels, Kate is on the run for her life—all the time wrestling with the suspicion that the whole operation was a set-up.
Cara Black, doyenne of the Parisian crime novel, is at her best as she brings Occupation-era France to vivid life in this gripping story about one young woman with the temerity—and drive—to take on Hitler himself.
My Thoughts

What a little surprise packet this was ! Cara Black has written a fast paced, action packed and highly engaging tale. It is quite a unique read in the WWII spy novel category and worthy of investigating as it is jam packed with intrigue and espionage. 

Three Hours to Paris centres around an event in June 1940 when Hitler made a brief three hour stop over in Paris. Cara takes this event, and his abrupt departure, to pen a well written fictional possibility of what might have occurred. After a failed assassination attempt the perpetrator finds herself on the run and thus ensues a fabulous cat-and-mouse chase across Paris. There is much going on in this short time: was Kate set up by the British? Whom can she trust? Who is the man with the gray eyes constantly on her tail? It plays out like a classic spy movie as the Nazis are determined to chase down the person responsible. 

I will not go into further detail for fear of revealing key points. Suffice to say that if this is a genre that appeals to you then you are sure to appreciate this exciting WWII spy story filled with dangers and loads of twists right to the very end. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.